Polish black metal goliaths, Batushka released their debut album Litourgiya almost 2 years ago on the 4th of December 2015 to unprecedented critical acclaim within the international black metal underground. The impact left by Litourgiya occurred as a result of its unique blend of black metal ferocity, doom laden riffage and eastern orthodox choir vocalisations with matching esoteric aesthetics and transcendental lyricisms. Although almost 2 years in age, this album managed to achieve a level of artistic excellence and well-due praise unmatched by most contemporary black metal albums released in the last decade.
Listeners can expect to recognise all the typical sonic hallmarks associated with black metal within Litourgiya including blast beats, tremolo picking, shrieking vocals and extended, long-form song structures which all adorn the eight-track album from its conception to closure. Notwithstanding the abundance of well-executed yet conventional musical stylings associated with most black metal acts, Batushka opts to utilise a range of eccentric and exotic instrumentations to embellish the metaphysical atmosphere of Eastern Orthodox liturgy and ritual throughout the progression of the album. This is evident within the first few seconds of the opening track ‘Yekteniya I – Ochishcheniye’ in which a rhythmic motif is performed on what can only be described as a metallic religious ornament accompanied by a melancholic reverberating guitar melody. This rhythmic theme is further explored throughout the opening moments of tracks such as ‘Yekteniya III’ and ‘Yekteniya V’, creating a sense of conceptual significance that assists in dragging the listener further within the void of Litourgiya’s iconoclastic universe. Batushka’s experimental approach to instrumentation is also exhibited within the runtime of Litourgiya through the presence of heavily detuned, extended-range guitar riffs which provide a brooding atmosphere akin to that of Sunn))) or Boris.
However, the most musically captivating and cerebral aspects of Litourgiya, namely the traditional choral vocalisations and spiritual lyricisms are perhaps also its most misunderstood and contentious components. Lyricisms dealing with the arcane nature of religious theology is not a foreign concept within black metal. However, Batushka’s approach to exploring such lyrical terrain surpasses the LaVeyan blasphemies of their contemporaries and applies an ambiguous and highly subjective interpretation of Eastern Orthodox religious scripture to the lyrical content found within Litourgiya. The lyrics, seemingly sung in Russian appear to be lifted directly from specific passages in the old testament, leading the audience to speculate upon whether the lyrics are meant to be taken at face value or as an iconoclastic, sarcastic presentation of orthodox religious sensibilities. The choral vocals themselves are executed with brilliant technique and form. Reminiscent of Gregorian chamber music, these vocals contain a distinctly ominous yet hypnotic tone whether used within the context of a solo melody, such as heard in the opening moments of ‘Yekteniya I’ or within the context of group chants such as those heard towards the end of the same track.
In spite of the album’s 41-minute runtime, Batushka manages to engage their audience from track to track with unmatched compositional poise. ‘Yekteniya IV – Milost’ is a masterclass in Batushka’s song writing brilliance. Opening with a crushing distorted bass groove surrounded by resonant, strummed guitar swells, the track wastes no time before dissipating into ominous silence, leaving only a solo vocal chant to lead the track towards it bombastic first verse. Following on from the hellish vocal shrieks, devastating double-bass and frantic tremolo picking riffs of the first verse, Batushka simmers the track to a dejected, mid-pace sludge before returning to a reprise of the main stanza which dissolves into ethereal ambience and atmosphere in the tracks closure.